Enriching the Arts

Featured Artist: Dora Helen Mackie, BFA, RCA, ASA


D. Helen Mackie, Untitled 1


A background in biological sciences has influenced Dora Helen Mackie’s life-long fascination with mountain and prairie culture as well as the natural world: the plants, animals, birds, people, the life cycles in nature – a veritable life’s tapestry. Although she denies any poetic approach, Helen visualizes (makes visible) nature’s rhythms and reveals spiritual and symbolic points of reference for our own realities. She takes what is common and everyday and makes for us, through the medium of the woodblock print, etching, watercolor, and charcoal drawing, imaginary worlds of surprise, interconnectivity, whimsy, and joy.

A master printmaker, Helen’s strong images, in conjunction with her use of color (often with a stencil technique), contain high levels of energy and denote her compassionate nature and keen sense of humor.  “While not interested in pure abstraction, she does abstract and simplify all her subjects.”(1)  Referencing various visual techniques from the history of art, such as the registers from illuminated medieval manuscripts and books of hours, Helen’s subjects shift the traditional scenes from the lives of the Virgin, Christ, and any number of saints, to include the activities of sheep, crows, cows, and buffalo, as well as cowboys, children, horses, flowers, and gardeners.

Dora Helen Mackie was born in Tavistock, Ontario in 1926. In 1943, she received a B.Sc. Honours at Queen’s University in Biology and Chemistry and in 1949 she received a M.Sc. in Physiology and Biochemistry from the University of Toronto.  After deciding to expand her understanding of the world via art making, Mackie received a BFA from the University of Calgary in Printmaking and Drawing (1973), where she studied with John Esler and Noboru Sawai.

She states that the art of printmaking “opened my eyes to a new world of images and new opportunities to create.”  For Helen the block of wood and the etcher’s plate kept her “contact with idea, hand, and image very close.”  Helen has studied at the Banff School of Fine Art, the Alberta College of Art, and the Emma Lake Painting Workshop.


D. Helen Mackie, Untitled 2

She is well known for her woodblock prints and etchings, although she also works with charcoal and watercolor.  Helen has had many solo exhibitions: her work was featured during the summer of 2011 at the Lebel Mansion in Pincher Creek courtesy of our gallery; in a travelling exhibition through the Alberta Foundation for the Arts (Dora Helen Mackie, A Print Retrospective, 2008-9); she exhibited at the Muttart Art Gallery, Calgary; Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Banff; and the Kanagawa International Association, Kanagawa, Japan, amongst many others.  She has participated in numerous group exhibitions as well, including the Taejon Expo International Exhibition of Graphic Arts, Taejon, Korea (1993), the Alberta Society of Artists 65th Anniversary Exhibition (1996), the 5th International Biennal Print Exhibit: 1991 ROC, Taipei, Taiwan (1991), 1st Kochi International Triennial Exhibition of Prints, Kochi-shi, Japan (1990), and International Exhibition Small Forms of Graphic Art, Lodz, Poland (1985-1989).

Mackie’s work is found in the collections of the City of Calgary Civic Collection, Glenbow Museum, H.R.H. Queen Elizabeth II Permanent Collection (Windsor Castle Library, England), Alberta Foundation for the Arts, Canada Council Art Bank (Ottawa), University of Calgary, Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, as well as others.  Her work is in private collections around the world.


D. Helen Mackie, Untitled 3

Q & A with the ASA

ASA: Can you tell us about your influences?

Dora: Every individual has unique life experience, ideas and emotions which become part of their personal pattern. In my life I can see different sources for my interests in the relationships of man with the natural world. Especially in the energy and life that flows from the earth, our source, into the life of the plants, animals, birds, insects, fish, etc. As a child, I lived in the country and that has given me vivid memories. The world of one’s childhood is the bones of one’s life. Encountering stories, myths, fables, and spiritual beliefs brought a larger understanding of my own life and the lives of others in times present and past. The study of life sciences focused my interest and increased my knowledge of living forms. Each plant, animal, or cell is unique onto itself but each depends on complex transfers of energy from other sources for its growth and movement.

ASA: What would you consider to be your most succesful body of work to date?

Dora: In the world of art different experiences are woven into one’s work. I have enjoyed working with watercolour in ‘plein air’ tradition since being given paints as a child. It is simple and direct and the experience greatly enhances one’s observation and appreciation of the wonderful world of out-of-doors. When studying Fine Arts at the University of Calgary, I found that a course in printmaking opened my eyes to a new world of images and to new opportunities to create. I have found that the traditional methods of drawing on a plate or cutting into a wood block are most to my liking. In these the contact with idea, hand, and image are very close. One begins each work big or small, with a new observation or thought. To define it becomes a unique challenge. Each work is a process that defines the worker.


ASA and TREX Address

Crossroads Art Centre
#302 - 1235 26th Avenue SE
Calgary, AB T2G 1R7
ASA Phone: (403) 265-0012
TREX Phone: (403) 262-4669

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